To A Fine Lady from Tacarigua
by Phyllis Inniss
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To A Fine Lady –
I was about seven or eight when I first went to stay at my cousins during the school holidays. They lived in the village of Tacarigua which had all the features of the country. Cows and goats grazing along the road, fowls cackling and strutting in and out of people’s yards, carts being pulled by bullocks along some dusty streets, and the sugarcane workers, their clothes blackened with the burnt canes, returning to their homes armed with their cutlasses.
Coming from the city this seemed very novel and refreshing. There was the river that cascaded down from the mountains, passing through the village of Caura, and winding its way through the sleepy area of Tacarigua, behind the Tacarigua Orphanage and under the Main Road. It continued its way behind the St. Mary’s Anglican Church where our little group, four cousins and myself, would sometimes go for a dip. I say dip, because I never learnt to swim, coward that I am. The others, of course, being native to this part of the world, were very good at the sport of swimming.
It was great fun going to the river, laughing and chatting with our little bundle of towels and other gear. There would be the tall stately palm trees to the east on the Paradise Estate. Sometimes a friend or neighbour would join us as we made our way to our favourite spot. Alternatively, we may walk in a southerly direction, cross the Main Road, walk over the train lines (no longer there), entering a little alcove not far from the Church, to enter the river. Getting into the water was a challenge. It was always cold at first. Soon after it seemed to match the temperature of your body, and jumping and splashing and shouting filled everyone with delight. If we should only see brambles and pebbles coming down in the water, we knew we should get out of the river fast. It meant danger as very soon the river would become a raging torrent. On our excursions there we would sometimes see men scampering along the train line. My cousins would say ‘whe whe’ an illegal game (now given legal status) and smile knowingly. They would explain that the men were tipped off that the police were apprised of their game and whereabouts.
Tacarigua also boasted a beautiful savannah, part of the Orange Grove Estate. In those days, schools and Sunday schools, as well as other groups would make outings to this Savannah. The large shady trees, like the samaan, the tamarind and the langinette, provided sufficient cover from the rays of the sun and shelter for the belongings of those enjoying their protection. The grounds were used for games like cricket and football on a regular basis, and people would sit in the covered stands to watch a game. However, on these excursions athletics and other school sports made up the excitement of the day.
What gave the Savannah added beauty was the pond. Visitors and locals alike were always drawn to the pond. People were always guessing at its depth and some said there were alligators there. We never saw any and I think that the smaller caiman was what people might have been referring to. The water lilies that seemed to swim in the pond gave it a less dark and mysterious air, their colours adding some beauty to the scene. On most Sunday afternoons the pond would be a favourite place for many, children, lovers and little groups. North of the pond was the large estate house with a hundred windows, one of which was always kept closed. I think the room with the closed window was kept private for the Governor’s visit.
These memories come to me as I remember, Vena, the eldest of my cousins. There were three of them, just as there were three of us in my own family The oldest a girl, then two years younger a brother and two years younger a sister. Another cousin, Vi, lived with them. Vena was nearly always reading when I visited. I think she read even more than I did. Very quiet, with a warm smile, she would welcome us. But in those early years, I attached myself to her sister, Grace, and brother, Hugh, who were closer in age to myself. We were more interested in play and would find any number of games with which to amuse ourselves.
It was not until very many years later that I got to know Vena pretty well. I had migrated to the U.K. She would come to London on her long vacations while her husband was studying there. During this time we spent many memorable moments together. When she and Lennox were going to Europe, she asked me to go with them. I was really happy to do so. We visited Paris and Brussels. I was really intrigued with Paris, that beautiful city. To walk down the Champs Elysees, as I did then and two years later with my husband (now ex-husband) was as delightful as a springtime in August. The atmosphere, the carefree attitude of the young people, the beauty of the flowering trees, all added to the ambience. The enjoyment of sharing in a new and exciting experience with pleasant people remain as part of one’s repertoire of nostalgic memories.
There was this quietness and subdued manner I observed in Vena. She never raised her voice in argument. In those days I did. I had to be heard. Yet, I admired this quality about my cousin. We chatted about so many things: fashion, theatre, music (she played the organ in her church and also gave piano lessons), books, movies and the changes in society.
On my return to Trinidad, I found myself living in Tacarigua of all places. Now quite a boom town without the sugar cane fields. It wasn’t my first choice, but houses were difficult to come by and too expensive in those areas where I would have preferred to live. Not far from where I bought my house Vena resided with her husband and two children – a son and a daughter. My son who was born in London and left there at the age of twelve, was now introduced into this totally new environment. It was extremely exciting for him. To see live goats, and fowls and cows at close range added to his enjoyment at our move. In age he came between the son, Brian, and daughter, Gillian, and was fascinated by his newly-found cousins.
Our proximity to each other allowed for frequent visits and the conversations and witticisms that ensued made the gathering more lively and entertaining. There might be a gentle remonstrance from Vena if Brian was saying something a little risque’. This reminded me of those times when we were young, she would tell us not to be so loud or we must not say such and such. We would give each other an eye, suggesting that she was playing mother, but we were never rude or disobedient to her. We had much respect for her.
Vena welcomed friends and strangers alike, with a warm smile. There was no diffidence or awkwardness on the part of those who met her or visited her home. She put everyone at ease and so did her children. She showed care and concern for the members of her family, relatives and others with whom she came in contact, and compassion for those in distress. She and her sister were part of a prayer group that went around praying for the members of their church who were ailing. She was truly a charitable person, giving more than expecting to receive.
Vena was a mine of information at her work place, as a civil servant in the Government Public Service. She had worked at The Treasury for years, was very good with figures, and was always willing to show or give advice to anyone where necessary. Even after her retirement, workers would call her on the phone and seek her knowledge on a particular problem. She was always happy to oblige and never shirked from anything she considered her duty.
Parties were pleasant affairs at her home. Different age groups came together and mingled without any self-consciousness. Music in the background would add a festive touch and one or two couples might venture to dance. Sometimes she would call us over to watch a video and we would discuss it. I always admired the depth and insight with which she saw and explained things.
The Lord took her away one tragic day and left us all in shock. We, none of us, expected it. She was walking along the pavement when this driver in a stolen car, rushing recklessly along to remove himself from the scene, mounted the pavement and hit her. Thankfully, she did not suffer. She is now with our Lord who has blessed us richly by letting her share in our lives.
My thanks to Hugh and Grace
for refreshing my memory
with details about Tacarigua
that were a bit hazy.
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Thank you for this interesting evocation of childhood and moving tribute to your loved and respected cousin. You must still miss her, but you are right to console yourself in the knowledge that she did not suffer. We are spiritual beings and our spirits live on in the Lord our God. All blessings, Irene